Monday 31 May 2021

What I'm Watching: May 2021

A recap of my month in movies and media, featuring Disney's CruellaThe Woman in the Window, Line of Duty and HBO's Industry

Cruella (In cinemas/Disney+)

Following in the footsteps of Maleficent, Cruella de Vil gets the villain origin story slash redemption arc that audiences have clearly been clamouring for in Cruella, which is in cinemas and available for a fee via Disney+.

Snark aside, this slick live-action reimagining of the dastardly Dalmatian detester is actually pretty good – much to my surprise. Starring Emma Stone in the titular role, Cruella follows young English orphan Estella as she moves to London and falls in with a duo of crooks, Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser). Between swindles, Estella dreams of a career in fashion – so when she crosses paths with famed fashionista the Baroness (Emma Thompson), things start to look up. But a tragic event from her childhood derails those ambitions, and a comedic crime caper follows.

With a fun punk aesthetic and a suitably swinging soundtrack packed with era-defining bangers from the likes of The Rolling Stones, Nancy Sinatra, The Doors, Blondie, Queen and David Bowie, it's safe to say that Craig Gillespie's film doesn't look or sound much like previous Disney films. That's a good thing too, because too many of these remakes or reboots have been rote and uninspired – at least Cruella is trying to capture an edgier vibe that I think a broader (or older) audience will appreciate. 

Stone is clearly having fun hamming it up alongside Thompson, the latter playing evoking Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. Playful, stylish and stacked with great sets, tunes and costumes, Cruella is an unexpectedly good time – even if the runtime is a smidge too long. 

The Woman in the Window (Netflix)

On paper, this film is 100 per cent my jam. A claustrophobic thriller with moody noir elements, starring Amy Adams, based on a pulpy paperback? Sign me up! The Woman in the Window follows in the footsteps of films like Rear Window, Panic Room and Disturbia, in that it is set in the one location and follows a housebound protagonist as they untangle a mystery – often through the lens of a camera.

In this, Adams plays Dr Anna Fox, an agoraphobic woman who thinks she witnesses the murder of a neighbour, Jane (Julianne Moore). But Anna's judgement is clouded by grief, depression, alcohol and prescription medication – calling into question what she saw and even her role in the tragedy. 

As book adaptations go, this is one of the weakest I've seen in a while. The film strips away much of what made the novel such an intriguing page-turner; the little details that deepened the mystery and fleshed out Anna's character have been shaved off, leaving behind little more than the bare bones of a story. I appreciated some of the nods and winks to Alfred Hitchcock – Anna is a fan of old movies, in a knowing wink to the film's shared DNA with Rear Window – but for the most part, director Joe Wright's filmmaking feels slapdash and harried. 

The key details are there – but the film feels shallow and simple. The cast is wasted, with everyone from Julianne Moore and Anthony Mackie to Brian Tyree Henry and Jennifer Jason Leigh resigned to terrible bit parts that. Worst of all is Gary Oldman, who is overacting to the point of absurdity – it's a wonder no-one on set asked him to reign it in just a little.

So much potential here, but The Woman in the Window is a disappointing effort from a usually dependable director – it's not hard to see why 20th Century Studios decided to offload it onto Netflix. 

Line of Duty (BBC/Netflix)

Line of Duty has been splashed all over Twitter in recent weeks, as British audiences gorge on the latest series of the BBC police drama – and I was starting to feel left out. So, we embarked on a month-long binge of the five seasons available on Netflix, and didn't look back.

Safe to say, Line of Duty is top-tier television; one of the best shows I've seen in years. The chemistry and rapport between Steve Arnott (Martin Compston), Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) and Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) is terrific, and keeps the show centred as different cases cycle in and out, while the revolving door of guest stars – Lennie James, Keeley Hawes, Thandie Newton – ensures a steady stream of reliable British thespians to add gravitas and drama. 

But it's the writing where Line of Duty really shines. Each season is a watertight web of interconnecting characters and motives; seeing it all unfold is fantastic stuff, as the twists and turns take the viewer on a journey packed full of red herrings and reversals. 

Not sure when or where season six makes its way to Australia, but I'm 100 per cent there when it does. 

Industry (BBC/HBO)

Industry follows a group of young graduates as they compete for a seat at the table with London-based investment bank, Pierpoint and Co. In a nutshell, it's a raunchy coming-of-age workplace drama filled with sex, drugs and designer suits, set against the stylish Canary Wharf skyline. Think of it as The Wolf of Wall Street meets Skins.

The problem (or appeal, I guess) with Industry, like its HBO stablemate Succession, is there's no-one to barrack for – every character is a colossal twat of the highest order. They're all "young, dumb and full of cum", to quote Point Break. Arrogant and full of swagger, the attractive cohort of competing grads are hard to like at first, as they snipe and bicker with one another over the smallest corporate shit. 

But that's the starting point. Over the season (there's eight hour-long episodes), as the tensions start to escalate, their flaws and failings start to the come to the fore – they reveal themselves to be human after all, just nervous young things starting out in the world. 

From love triangles and weekend-long benders to high-stakes stock market wheeling and dealing, there's a lot to like about Industry. Highlights include episode four ('Sesh'), where Harper's (Myha'la Herrold) workday spirals out of control after a miscommunication causes the loss of thousands, and episode seven, ('Pre-Crisis Activity') which sees Yasmin (Marisa Abela) and Robert (Harry Lawtey) take the next step in their one again off again courtship (for lack of a better word). 

I haven't seen or heard a lot of people talking about this one, so it's definitely a hidden gem. Probably not for everyone (there's a lot of sex and drugs) but I found a lot to like.

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